Don’t mess with Texas…weather. The penultimate round of the 2014 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge was held at the world-class Circuit of the Americas just outside of Austin, Texas on September 19th. The street-stock sports car series put on a great show for the fans during a race where Mother Nature was the biggest factor in both the race’s outcome and the championship points standings.

The 3.4-mile track, which hosts the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix, was constructed in 2012. The IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge visited the track for the first time in 2013. The track features super-smooth pavement and copious amounts of paved track runoff to allow drivers to get back on-track without getting stuck in gravel or sliding in grass—minimizing caution periods to retrieve cars.

Green flag at Circuit of the Americas!

The weekend followed a two-day format with two practice sessions and qualifying on Thursday, with the 2.5-hour race on Friday. Billy Johnson and Ian James were fastest in practice driving the No. 158 Mulitmatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R, followed by Tim Bell and Dane Cameron in the No. 28 Tim Bell Racing Nissan 370Z. Eric Curran and Lawson Aschenbach lead the Camaro Z/28.R contingent with the No. 01 CKS Autosport Camaro recording the third-quickest time in practice.

During Thursday afternoon’s qualifying session, Johnson set the fastest time to earn pole position, followed by his veteran teammate Scott Maxwell in the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R. Setting the third quickest time was Hugh Plumb in the No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche, and rounding out the two front rows was Eric Curran in the No. 01 CKS Autosport Camaro Z/28.R.

Billy Johnson talks with fans during the pre-race fan walk at Curcuit of the Americas.

Rain periodically dampened the track throughout the weekend, and the forecast for Friday’s race called for much of the same. The 52 cars in the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge field took the green flag as the skies darkened to the northwest.

On the race’s opening lap, Tim Bell lost the brakes heading into turn twelve, and his No. 28 Nissan 370Z shot into the barriers at over 130 miles per hour! The driver said over his radio, “I hit the brake and nothing happened at all.” Amazingly, Bell walked away from the crash. The incident resulted in a lengthy caution period to extract the Nissan and repair the barriers.

Consistent with the string of bad racing luck that is plaguing the No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche, driver Hugh Plumb had to bring the rear-engined sports car down pit lane on the first lap so the team could replace the accessory drive belt, which was broken by a piece of debris on the race’s opening lap. Hugh Plumb returned to the race two laps down.

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The cleanup and repairs to the track took nearly 30 minutes to complete. With the race back under green, racers started making their moves. Scott Maxwell in the No. 15 BOSS 302R was spun, and the No. 07 Aston Martin was called to the pits to serve a stop-and-go penalty for the contact. At lap twelve, the running order was Billy Johnson (No. 158 Mustang), Eric Curran (No. 01 Camaro) up to second, followed by Andrew Davis (No. 6 Camaro), and Andy Lally (No. 9 Camaro). Trent Hindman (No. 46 BMW) was on the move, as he gained five positions in four laps.

Left: Fans meet the cars and drivers of the IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge during the pre-race fan walk at Circuit of the Americas. Right: Billy Johnson, starting the race from pole position, shows a young fan the details of his No. 158 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R during the pre-race fan walk at Circuit of the Americas.

50 minutes into the race, the dark skies started spitting rain across the circuit. Race strategists studied weather radar images to formulate their plans. The time for first pit stops was approaching, but the track wasn’t wet enough for Continental’s soft, grooved rain tires to survive. First of the front-runners to pit were the Stevenson Camaros (numbers 6 and 9). Points leader Andrew Davis (No. 6 Camaro) handed the Z/28.R over to Robin Liddell. Davis reported that that team remained on “dry” tires despite having the track very wet in the Esses and the middle of the backstraight. But watching the clouds, he felt rain wouldn’t last long and it would be a bigger gamble going to ‘wet’ tires. Teammate Matt Bell brought his No. 9 Camaro for fresh tires, fuel, and to Andy Lally.

When the Camaros pitted, Scott Maxwell’s No. 15 Mustang leapfrogged the Z/28.Rs in the pits to slip behind teammate Johnson in the No. 158 Mustang. Hindman and the No. 46 BMW were up to third for a lap until Hindman brought the Fall-Line Motorspors BMW M3 down pit lane for routine service. He went back out on dry tires as well.

Circuit of the Americas, known for currently hosting the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix, is wide and smooth. The Racer’s Edge Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R brakes hard for turn 11 with Billy Johnson in the No. 158 Mustang BOSS 302R lurks behind.

On lap 23, Johnson drove the No. 158 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302 to the pits for fuel, tires, and to hand over driving duties to Ian James. After emerging from the car, Johnson commented, “My stint was crazy. It was dry on the front stretch, dry on the back of the track, and wet in the middle. It wasn’t wet enough for rain tires, so I just had to deal with it.”

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Scott Maxwell (No. 15 Mustang) led the next four laps until his BOSS 302R was running on fumes. Maxwell struggled to get to the pits, where Jade Buford got in to drive the car to the finish.

The No. 78 Racers Edge Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R exits turn 11, or “the hairpin,” which is a tight turn on the farthest portion of the track from the start-finish straight.

After the first round of pit stops, Lawson Aschenbach (No. 01 Camaro) led Ian James (No. 158 Mustang) until James overtook Aschenbach on lap 33. A few laps later, the cars were within their “fuel window”—meaning that a full load of fuel would get them to the finish. James and Aschenbach pitted, handing the lead to John Edwards (now driving the No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW) and second place to Tom Kimber-Smith (No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW). By this point, the rainfall had tapered off, and the track was starting to dry, so those that pitted remained on dry tires.

Top Row: Left: Diversity is one of the hallmarks of the IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge series. Here three powerful Camaro Z/28.Rs lead a slower-class Hyundai that the No. 15 Mustnag BOSS 302R and No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche are about to pass during practice at Circuit of the Americas. Right: One of the features of Circuit of the Americas is the wide, paved runoff areas beyond the track’s borders. These areas are painted in a patriotic red, white, and blue theme at various locations around the track. Here the No. 15 Mustang BOSS 302R of Scott Maxwell and Jade Buford threads the “esses” portion of the track. Bottom Row:

Strategically, there’s an advantage to being the “first” to complete your last pit stop, as it allows you to pass your competitors in the pits as they pit after you. However, the weather altered the strategic landscape. Instead of coming into the pits at the edge of their fuel window, the Fall-Line Motorsports team waited. They noticed earlier in the weekend that it took the track about 45 minutes to dry out—in other words, if the track was wet, they could safely run rain tires for 45 minutes.

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Ricardo Flores and Robert Stout shared the No. 68 Racer’s Edge Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R at Circuit of the Americas.

With 40 minutes remaining in the race, the team called Edwards from the lead to the pits for rain tires. Tom Kimber-Smith (No. 97 BMW), Robin Liddell (No. 6 Camaro), Ian James (No. 158 Mustang) all passed Edwards, who rejoined the race in fifth.

Left: A landmark in many photos at Circuit of the Americas is the observation tower near the center of the track. It’s 251 feet tall, and offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the circuit and surroundings, including downtown Austin, Texas. If you don’t want to take the elevator, (or in the case of this author’s visit, the elevator isn’t operating), there’s 419 stairs to climb to reach the observation deck. Center: One of the features of the Circuit of the Americas track is the elevation change. There’s a 130-foot distance between the highest and lowest point of the track, which makes many of the turns blind and challenging. Right: Scott Maxwell, driving the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R rounds turn five ahead of the No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3 at Circuit of the Americas.

Teammates Billy Johnson (No. 158 Mustang BOSS 302R) and Scott Maxwell (No. 15 Mustang BOSS 302R) fly in formation during qualifying at Circuit of the Americas. They’d go on to qualify for the race in the same positions, with Johnson on pole.

However, Edwards was able to drive considerably faster than those in front of him, who were all on slick tires. The differences at corner entry and exit were obvious: those on dry tires had to brake earlier and struggled to put the power down out of each corner. In a few laps, Edwards passed Liddell (No. 6 Camaro) for second. The two cars were not only battling for position, but also for the GS points lead!

With twenty minutes remaining, Tom Kimber-Smith (No. 97 BMW) led John Edwards (No. 46 BMW) by 14.254 seconds—a lifetime under normal conditions—but Edwards’s rain tires allowed him to lap four seconds faster—as Edwards was feverously reeling in Kimber-Smith. 2:36 p.m., Lap 48, Kimber-Smith lead now 4.368 seconds.

A shrewd strategic call netted John Edwards and Trent Hindman their second win of the season in the No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW, followed by Tom Kimber-Smith and Michael Marsal in the No. 97 Turner Motorsports BMW. Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R drivers Ian James and Billy Johnson finished third at Circuit of the Americas.

On lap 50, Edwards, driving through puddles to cool his soft rain tires, caught and passed Kimber-Smith for the lead with 11 minutes remaining! As Edwards crossed the finish line, John Edwards and Trent Hindman won their second race of the season in No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3, and Hindman retook the points lead from Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis, who finished fourth in No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro. It was the seventh career victory for Edwards in the series, and second for Hindman, coming on the eve of the young driver’s 19th birthday.

Michael Marsal and Tom Kimber-Smith finished second in the No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW M3, while Ian James and Billy Johnson brought their No. 158 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R home third.

Just five championship points separate Hindman and the Fall-Line Motorsports team from Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell heading into the 2014 IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge season finale at Road Atlanta on October 3rd. The race is run day before the ten-hour IMSA Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda for the TUDOR Championship, so it’s a great weekend to see the season finales of the two premier sports car racing series in North America!

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Ricardo Flores apexes turn 15 behind the No. 12 Porsche during qualifying at Circuit of the Americas, where he put the No. 68 Racers Edge Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R 17th on the grid.

From the top of the observation tower, fans can get a birds-eye view of the Circuit of the Americas. Here, David Calvert-Jones is shown driving on the colorful track during qualifying on Thursday afternoon.

Billy Johnson in the No. 158 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R and teammate Scott Maxwell in the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R lead the GS-class field through turn one at Circuit of the Americas. The ST-class field can be seen in the distance ready to start their race.

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Scott Maxwell in the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R follows his teammate, Billy Johnson, between turns one and two at Circuit of the Americas. Johnson started the race from pole position, and Maxwell started second.

David Calvert-Jones brings the No. 78 Racers Edge Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R into the pits for service at Circuit of the Americas. Note that the wheel lug nuts are already attached to the 18 x 10” BBS wheel that the tire changer is carrying. The nuts are secured to the wheel with weatherstrip adhesive, which is strong enough to hold the lug nuts in place, but weak enough to release when the wheel is pushed over the studs. The result is all five lug nuts are left on end of the wheel studs, ready to be tightened with the air gun.

The No. 78 Racers Edge Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R driven by David Levine exits turn 19 at Circuit of the Americas. Note the paved runoff area outside the turn that allows cars that to off-track to maintain control and return to the track safely. A strip of AstroTurf deters deliberate driving beyond the borders of the track.

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Ian James in the No. 158 Mustang BOSS 302R holds off Lawson Aschenbach (No. 01 CKS Autosport Camaro Z/28.R) and Robil Liddell (No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro Z/28.R) as rain beings to fall at Circuit of the Americas.

David Levine finished the race 8th in the slippery conditions after David Calvert-Jones started the race 19th in the No. 78 Racers Edge Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R.

Jade Buford’s Mustang BOSS 302R struggles to put the power down on the damp Circuit of the Americas. He and co-driver Scott Maxwell brought the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports entry home 5th.

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